A chord is three or more notes played at the same time. Some combinations of notes sound especially good together, and have special names. You can write great songs with just a few chords and there are six standard chords you can use in each key. This example is in the key of C (it is the easiest to start with because there are no sharps or flats in the key).
These six chords are...
Three of these chords, I, IV, and V, are "major" chords, and are named using upper-case Roman numerals.
Major chords sound happy, and uplifting. Many songs use only chords I, IV and V.
The other three chords,ii,iii, and vi, are "minor" chords and are named using lower-case Roman numerals. Minor chords generally sound sad or dramatic.
Chord Progressions & Chord Map
To write a song you need to decide which chords to use and in what order. Firstly, the I chord sounds like 'home' in any key and you should think about starting and ending with the I chord. (This is the chord of C in the key of C).
Certain chords work well with others. Here is a chord map to help you work out your progressions:
You need to follow these rules...
1/ You can go from I to anywhere else.
2/ Once you're away from I, choose arrows to follow until you get back there.
3/ You can stay in one box as long as you like before moving on.
4/ If the same chord appears in two places you can jump between them.
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Creating A Structure For Your Song
There is no fixed rule for how often you you should change from chord to chord but one chord per bar is common. (Count four beats per bar – or three beats per bar in a waltz).
Arrange your music into phrases that are 4, 8 or 12 bars long.
A common technique is to have a question phrase followed by an answer phrase.
The 'question' phrase would end on a Chord V and this would be followed by an 'answer' phrase which ends on a Chord I.
eg. I - vi - IV – V - I - ii - V - I
Here are some other example chord sequences to try:
I - I - IV – I
I - V - I – V
I - I - IV - IV - I - IV - V – I
I - iii - vi - ii - ii - V - I – V
I - IV - ii - V - I - ii - V - I
Try playing the bottom note of each chord as a bassline in your left hand on the keyboard, playing a different rhythm to the right hand.
You can repeat the same chords all the way through the song
(Like 'Price Tag' I-iii-vi-IV).
For greater contrast – and development of ideas, look at composing THREE chord sequences:
3/ Middle 8.
How to Make Your Chords a Little Different...
Here are some ideas to make your chords stand out from the rest.
Invert the chord. Change the order you play the notes of the chord. (Play E, G, C or G,C,E instead of C,E,G).
Use seventh chords. Add another note to the chord – seven notes above the bottom note.
In this example, a B has been added to a
C chord. C,E,G,B.
Try this with other chords in your piece.
3/ Slash Chords
Try different bass notes in the left hand. These are often written using a slash to separate the chord name and the bass note.
e.g. C/B is a C chord (C,E,G) with a B in the Bass.
Dm7/C is a Dm7 chord (D,F,A,C) with a C in the Bass.
Instead of playing the notes of the chords together, experiment playing them one (or two) at a time in different patterns and rhythms.
A suspension (sus chord) replaces a usual chord tone with an adjacent note. In a Sus4 the third note of the scale is replaced with the fourth note of the scale in the chord.
e.g Csus4 is C,F,G instead of C,E,G.
Once you have created your chord sequence you need to write a melody.
1/ The notes of your melody should be based around the notes used in your chords.
2/ Use notes that are not in the chord too, particularly notes that are next to chord notes – BUT – move stepwise back to the chord note.
3/ Avoid too many big leaps in your melody.
4/ Use REPETITION & SEQUENCES in your melody. Even if you are just repeating a few notes.
5/ Think about the SHAPE of your melody. Most melodies don't just rise in pitch or descend in pitch. This would sound more like a scale than a melody.
Most melodies rise and fall, often in an 'arch' shape.
6/ Pop songs usually have a chorus with a melody which is higher than the verse. This means that the verse ends with the melody rising.